Welcome to the 19th Century…
You don’t become a writer to become a celebrity. And you don’t become a billionaire either. But you get a lot. For instance, I get to create whatever world I want, and then go live in it. My chosen residence is London, to be more specific, the London of 1851. I am obsessed with the Victorians, so when Katie Berger-Jones-Burg travels through time, she heads for the 19th century.
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing The Queen Must Die was mixing fact with fiction. Princess Alice was a real person and, in my opinion, the most interesting of Queen Victoria’s daughters. When I was writing Princess Alice, I would always read her actual letters, so that I could get the rhythm of her speech. Baroness Lehzen is the real deal, too – though I suspect not quite as cruel as I make her. Mr MacKenzie is a fictional character, but 100% based on someone I know (and obviously don’t much like). But I’ll never tell…
---The grey eyes narrowed. ‘Have you come to kill my mother?’
‘Kill your mother?’
‘Yes, an assassin. Are you an assassin? Why else would you be hiding under the sofa?’
Katie thought she knew who that girl was, and she definitely knew this was impossible. So Katie said as slowly, deliberately and loudly as she could, ‘I am not loony. I am under my bed, having a dream. I’ve been reading too much and am under some stress. I will now wake up and go into the kitchen and have a glass of milk. I will skip my homework and go directly to bed. No reading. Tomorrow everything will be OK.’
‘Oh please, do keep your voice down,’ said the girl with the serious grey eyes. ‘If Lehzen finds you, you’ll be marched off to Newgate prison in no time. But I can tell by the look of you that you could never, ever have carried it out. You’re not English – what a strange accent you have. Are you part of a gang? Are they holding your family hostage and forcing you to act in this dreadful manner?’
Trying to still her panic, Katie opened her mouth to protest, but a sudden noise made them both stiffen. Footsteps were coming towards the corridor. The girl slid under the sofa next to Katie. ‘Shhhhh, Lehzen,’ she warned, ‘and MacKenzie too. This is double trouble.’
The footsteps rang across the marble floor – a man’s boots and a woman’s slippers appeared inches from Katie’s nose. Twisting her neck, she could see the two people, grotesquely foreshortened from her position.
‘And what is the Queen’s complaint?’ the man asked.
‘It is not the Queen’s complaint,’ the woman snapped indignantly. ‘It is the Prince Albert. He is the one that does complain. He says there is the noise in the corridors late at night, that the movement in the Palace does keep him from sleep.’
MacKenzie rolled from one foot to the other.
‘The sounds he speaks of must be in his imagination.
Or perhaps it is the plumbing… I knew no good would come of indoor plumbing. Please inform the Queen and the Prince that we will flush through the pipes.’
‘Do the pipes speak?’ asked the woman, ‘because he is hearing the voices, and scuffling and doors that are banging.’
‘I assure you, Baroness Lehzen, there is no irregularity in the Palace,’ he said, nodding his head emphatically. ‘It isthe plumbing, and that is all it is.’
But Lehzen’s next question was silenced by the sound of horses in the courtyard. ‘The Queen, we must go.’
Katie had been clutching the sofa leg so tightly, her hands had gone stiff and cold. She unhooked her fingers and let out a long breath, ‘Thanks, thanks a lot.’
‘I haven’t done anything.’
‘You didn’t give me away.’
The grey-eyed girl got up from under the sofa, and Katie looked her over. She had silky brown hair hanging down to her waist. Her delicate angular features and steady calm gaze gave her an extremely grave look.
She was wearing a long starched skirt and high, buttoned boots – just like all the other times Katie had seen her on the streets of New York.
‘Who are you?’ she asked.
‘I am the Princess Alice.’ Despite her modest demeanour, the girl could not resist a toss of her head.
This information made Katie go cold. Her heart beat quickly and she began to sway. ‘You know, I don’t feel too good…
I’ve got to lie down… to go back to sleep now.’
‘I’m afraid you’ll have to sleep under the bed as a precaution…’
Alice took a blanket from her bed, and a fluffy toy sheep fell to the floor, uttering a plaintive ‘Baa’. ‘It’s Woolie Baa Lamb,’ the princess explained, giving the toy a quick hug. ‘I know I’m too old for him, but I get so lonely.’
As she lay under the bed, thoughts ran wild in Katie’s mind.
‘Why am I here? Here’s the girl I’ve been seeing in those visions, and it turns out she’s Princess Alice, who I know from that book – the letters I was just reading. But then she’s saying things and doing things that aren’t in the book. So it’s kind of familiar, but kind of strange too. And frightening. Really frightening.’
You can check out the next stop of the tour tomorrow over at Five Minutes Peace.